NASA James Webb Space Telescope looked deep into interstellar space and spotted a planet with possible evidence of life. Scientists observed the data obtained from this observation and concluded that the telescope may have detected a molecule identified as dimethyl sulphide (DMS). It was discovered that this molecule is only produced by life on Earth. However, since the exoplanet named planet K2-18b is about 120 light years away, scientists still need to conduct more observations and obtain more data to confirm if the molecule truly exists on the planet.
Scientists also noticed that JWST detected methane and CO2 in the planet’s atmosphere. The presence of these gases suggests that the exoplanet could have a water ocean.
What Scientists Think About This Discovery on Planet K2-18b
During an interview with BBC News, Prof Nikku Madhusudhan, of the University of Cambridge, who led the research revealed that every member of his team was shocked with the intriguing results they obtained from the research.
“On Earth, DMS is only produced by life. The bulk of it in Earth’s atmosphere is emitted from phytoplankton in marine environments,” Prof Nikku Madhusudhan said.
However, Prof Madhusudhan noted the detected molecule will still need more data to confirm its presence on the planet. Astronomers will surely conduct additional studies and provide the entire world with answers to our curious questions in 2024.
”If confirmed, it would be a huge deal and I feel a responsibility to get this right if we are making such a big claim,” Prof Madhusudhan said.
Why The Discovery of DMS is Truly Fascinating
Astronomers have been observing exoplanets with data obtained from space and ground-based telescopes. But this is the first time researchers are detecting the possible presence of DMS in a planet moving around a distant star. However, the researchers who made this discovery are presenting the results with caution.
Keep in mind that this is not the first time astronomers have discovered molecules that offer possible evidence of extraterrestrial lifeforms. In 2020, scientists claimed that they discovered Phosphine in the clouds of Venus. The discovery suggested the presence of this molecule could have come into existence by living organisms in Venus’ clouds.
However, another group of scientists disputed this claim a year later. However, Dr. Robert Massey, a deputy director of the Royal Astronomical Society in London revealed that he was fascinated with the outcomes of the observations.
”We are slowly moving towards the point where we will be able to answer that big question as to whether we are alone in the Universe or not,” DR Robert Massey said. ”I’m optimistic that we will one day find signs of life. Perhaps it will be this, perhaps in 10 or even 50 years we will have evidence that is so compelling that it is the best explanation.”
How Scientists Used JWST To Make The Discovery About Planet K2-18b
JWST which has been in operation since 2022 has made numerous fascinating discoveries for mankind since its launch on December 25, 2021. In the quest to find evidence of life in distant worlds, scientists have been using the most powerful telescope of our time to look more closely at distant planets and learn more about their chemical composition. JWST recently used to study planet K2-18b, an exoplanet located about 120 light years away.
The telescope studied the light passing through the planet’s atmosphere. The light comprises of chemical signature of molecules in its atmosphere. Scientists obtained more details by splitting the light into different frequencies. This is like creating a rainbow spectrum. When any part of the resulting spectrum is not showing, scientists conclude that it has been absorbed by the chemical composition in the planet’s atmosphere.
Hence, this smart move enables scientists to discover the chemical composition of planet K2-18b. Let’s put this into perspective, exoplanet K2-18b is more than 1.1 million billion km away from our sophisticated space telescope. Hence, the amount of light reaching JWST is small. However, scientists were able to use this data to discover the unique DMS molecules and chemical compositions of the planet, including the abundance of gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.
Scientists have discovered that the presence of CO2 and methane on a planet could mean that the planetary body contains a water ocean underneath its hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Researchers have previously used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to spot the presence of water vapor on this planet. As JWST has commenced with its operation, astronomers find it necessary to use the sophistication of the telescope to get a clearer view of K2-18b. Further observations conducted on this planet will reveal more of its features to humankind.
Does This Discovery Implies That We Have Found Evidence Of Life on Planet K2-18b?
Finding DMS on K2-18b doesn’t mean that we have discovered life outside Earth. In fact, the ability of life to survive on a planetary body highly depends on the temperature, liquid water, and presence of carbon on that planet.
Even though data obtained from JWST suggest that K2-18b has suitable conditions for life to exist, more observations will still have to verify if there is any living organism on the planet. K2-18b is not an Earth-like planet as it is about nine times the size of our planet. More studies will reveal this exoplanet better to us.
Astronomers used the JWST to make fascinating discoveries on planet K2-18b, an exoplanet orbiting a star about 120 light years away. More data will help in revealing this planet better to mankind. What do you think about this intriguing discovery?